altHeavy rains that caused overflowing of rivers flooding in several countries in South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, among others), have also caused various emergency situations that have exacted a heavy toll in people and infrastructure. According to official reports, dozens of people have died, several are still missing and the number of affected people is around several thousands.

In Bolivia about 50,000 families have been affected in the northern regions of La Paz, Beni and Cochabamba. The Government has declared a State of National Emergency activating the response mechanisms; the departmental governments of La Paz, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba and Beni have declared emergency or alerts at different levels. Peru, meanwhile, has declared Red Alert in the basin of the Madre de Dios River. In Paraguay floods have been reported in the Chaco region and several communities are isolated in the departments of Presidente Hayes and Alto Paraguay. In Ecuador floods, landslides and mudslides are reported on roads in several communities in the of the coast and mountains provinces.

In the face of these emergencies, the health risks of the affected population increase. Therefore, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) recommends taking preventive measures; heeding the recommendations of authorities regarding the consumption of safe water and extreme measures of hygiene and proper storage of food and medicine.

It is also important to keep spaces clean to avoid the collapse of the drainage systems, and prevent the accumulation of water in order to stop the proliferation of mosquito breeding sites. Particular attention should be paid to acute diarrheal disease cases, acute respiratory infections and communicable diseases.

Basic needs of the population

To meet the basic needs of the population, municipal, departmental and national authorities in Bolivia are working on damage and needs assessments and the distribution of food, water and supplies to affected families. The Ministry of Health has declared a state of health alert in the entire country. Santa Cruz's Departmental Health Service (SEDES) has sent medical supplies and equipment and is developing advocacy and education activities to prevent infectious diseases, water-borne diseases and other diseases due to the poor conditions and the lack of basic services.

PAHO/WHO remains in constant contact with national and local health authorities to determine possible health needs, as well as with other specialized agencies of the United Nations System and humanitarian organizations.

The PAHO/WHO Department of Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief makes available to all those interested a series of practical guides on issues such as water and sanitation and materials useful and relevant in emergency care related to flooding:

  • The guide pdf Surveillance of Risk Factors in Shelters (only available in Spanish) is a useful tool for health sector workers, giving general guidance on issues such as water, sanitation and hygiene, vector control and nutrition, among others. The document assesses the public health conditions in shelters allowing the follow up on necessary actions and decision-making to ensure appropriate conditions for the population.
  • More recommendations can also be found in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Emergencies and Disasters (only available in Spanish), including tools and techniques gathered from different institutions that guide efforts to improve the health conditions of populations affected by adverse events.
  • The PAHO/WHO Regional Emergency Response Team - Field Manual includes evaluation forms and checklists for health services, shelter, water and sanitation, epidemiologic surveillance, damage assessment and needs analysis, and mental health, among others.
  • To find more documents and materials useful in emergency response related to flooding, visit the Floods section in Publications and Resources of the Knowledge Center on Public Health and Disasters.

For more updates on the emergency: